Our Tax Solar System and TCJA Structural Changes to It

Accountants are typically thought of as detail-oriented people, but I am more of a big-picture person. Here is a good example.

About 18 months ago I had an idea to use the solar system as a metaphor for the 1040 tax system. I like this idea because it gives us a 30,000 foot view of the system. It makes it easy to see its structure and how the forms flow together. I also think this will make a great organizing principle for a tax textbook.

The 1040 is the sun. The forms that flow directly to the 1040 are the planets. Forms that flow to those forms are moons. There are moons of moons.

The metaphor also works with other tax forms such as the 1120, 1065, etc. Just put them in the center and do the same thing with the forms.

The metaphor reduces the cognitive load on the student. This means that the ideas are easier to remember and stay in the memory longer.

TCJA’s Structural Changes to the Tax System

The TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) made a few notable changes to the structure. I will explain one of them in light of the metaphor. See if it makes it easy to understand.

Schedule 1 was introduced as a planet. Schedules C, D, E, and F used to be planets, but now they are moons of Schedule 1.

What do you think? Does it work for you?

Solar System

Here is something I drew back when I first thought of it (pre-TCJA). I originally thought of it as a galaxy, but after drawing it I realized that the solar system is a better metaphor. It’s super rough, and I’d do it differently now, but it will give you an idea of what I’m thinking:

Tax Galaxy

I hope to work with art and/or design students to turn this idea into a three dimensional model someday. Imagine a beautiful solar system display and all of its colors. I’m even picturing something that is an outdoor display, something that could be an attraction for anybody to come and see. Even non-accounting students could learn something just by looking at it. Accounting needs more beauty, don’t you agree?

Does this metaphor help you understand the structure of our tax system?

Image from NASA (public domain).

Tax Solar System and Tax Galaxy copyright Jennifer Johnson 2017-2019.


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